Chaturanga…The lost game

Chaturanga…The lost game

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The true origin of the game of Chess is not clear. Some Legends attribute its invention to the Biblical King Solomon, or to the Greek god Hermes, or to the Chinese mandarin Hansing. But most probably originated in India sometime around the 5th, 6th or 7th century AD. From there the game crossed into Persia (now Iran), then ~ to Europe.


 There is also a new interesting theory and proofs that the game went through North Africa, then through Spain to reach the western part of Europe and only then it came back to the eastern horizons and Russia. Sometimes ideas, in this case the game, do not travel logically, in other words for me it’s not because it came from east that the final destination was the western part, I think that in fact it was a bit more complicated than that, the wind does not always blow from the same direction to another it is changing and very often comes back to where it started. So the interest for chess went south to North Africa then went as far as Gibraltar peninsula located at the southern edge of Spain and from there spreaded back around all Europe.


The word Chess is thought to be derived from "shah," the Persian word for king, and the word checkmate from shah mat, meaning "the king is dead."

The earliest written mention of a Chess like game appeared around 600 AD, and the fact that it was mentioned without an explanation suggests that it was already well known by that time. Chess is one of a group of games related from Chaturanga, a game believed to have originated in India in the 6th century or perhaps earlier, which itself may be related to a much older Chinese game. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word referring to the four arms (or divisions) of an Indian army: elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry, from which come the four types of pieces in that game.


It was not only two quoted texts that strengthened the belief for China as the birthplace of Chess, but also the circular bronze and ivory counters for the astrological Hsiang Hsi and for the war game Hsiang Chhi found during excavations. Similar finds are totally lacking in India. Indeed, India is a Chess Sahara Desert for archaeological finds, written documents, literature, early references, legends or anything akin.


Chaturanga spreaded eastward from Korea to Japan. It also appeared in Persia after the Islamic conquest (638-651). In Persia the game was first called chatrang, the Persian form of chaturanga and then shatranj the Arabic form of the word. The spread of Islam to Sicily and the invasion of Spain by the Moors brought shatranj to Western Europe. It reached Russia through trade routes from several directions. By the end of the 10th century, the game was well known throughout Europe. It attracted the serious interest of kings, philosophers and poets, and the best players recorded their games for posterity. Problems, or puzzles, in which the solver has to find a solution (such as a forced Checkmate in a given number of moves), became very popular during the 12th and 13th centuries.


Modern Chess


The game of Chess as it exists today emerged in southern Europe toward the end of the 15th century. Some of the old shatranj rules were modified, new rules were added such as Castling, the two-square Pawn advance, and the 'en passant' capture, and the powers of certain pieces were increased. The most important changes turned the fers counselor a weak piece in shatranj, into the Queen, the strongest piece in Chess, and the alfil which moved in two-square steps into the far-ranging Chess Bishop. The new game achieved popularity all over Europe. Some of the best players of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, notably Ruy Lopez of Spain and Damiano of Portugal, recorded their games and theories in widely circulated books of chess instruction.


The Chess game had settled exactly into its modern form, from which it is unlikely to depart. An interesting encounter between the players of the modern form of chess and a player of the old Indian version occurred between 1929 and 1933 when Mir Sultan Khan became British Champion and managed to get a draw against the World Champion Alekhine, and defeated the former World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca. In practice, the variations within the given laws are inexhaustible, so while there are many Chess variants, there is neither reason nor temptation to alter the modern game.



The King - Popular belief holds that the first royal king in chess was fashioned after the Raja. As in life, the king holds a position of protection in the game and has limited yet adroit movements allowed.

The Queen - The queen has seen the most changes as one of the chess pieces. She began as a counselor or Mantri and has ended up as a General that can assume a role in offensive play that is quite powerful. She got her new position due to the reduction of pieces battling on the board and overtook that of the General, forever to be known in chess as the Queen.



The Bishop - The bishop has a strict capability for movement, though like the knight it can leap to its goal. This chess piece was known as Gaja in the past and its present purpose has lost the ability to move vertically. The travel it makes diagonally is equal to today’s Queen.

The Knight - Little has changed for the chess piece once known as Horse or Ashva. The knight has stayed the same in regards to its movement capabilities and its shape for as long as the game has been played. The knight is not typically asked to lead the charge, instead use its superior flanking ability.

The Rook - This chess piece was known as the Chariot at first, considered the division of heavy infantry in the game. It was also known as the Ratha. It possesses powerful movement abilities, and is typically used in defence as well as to pin down the chess pieces of the opponent.

The Pawn - These chess pieces are considered expendable and can be likened to the foot soldiers in a typical army troop. They can be used to define both offensive and defensive options and can be quite useful for strategy at the endgame. You are well advised to protect your pawns, especially when you are opening. The Italians have a saying, “When the chess game is over, the pawn and the king go back to the same box.” In other words, respect your pawns and they will take care of you.

The chess pieces can be looked upon as not only parts of a game, but a window into the medieval past where everyone was born into their place and there was not much movement between classes. The king and the queen were the rulers and everyone else was merely there to serve them, though if you look at the game closely, the game cannot be won without the cooperation of the rest of the pieces.


·        Two-player ancient game chaturanga. For the four-player version, played with dice, is called  chaturaji.



Chaturanga (Sanskrit: caturaṅga), catur, is an ancient Indian game which is the common ancestor of the games of chess, shogi, makruk, xiangqi and janggi. It is said by some to be invented by Sessa (controversial).



Chaturanga developed in Gupta India around the 6th century AD. In the 7th century, it was adopted as shatranj in Sassanid Persia, which in turn was the form that brought chess to late-medieval Europe.



The exact rules of chaturanga are not known. Chess historians suppose that the game had similar rules to those of its successor shatranj. In particular, there is uncertainty as to the moves of the Gaja (elephant), the precursor of the bishop in modern chess.



Sanskrit caturaṅga is a bahuvrihi compound, meaning "having four limbs or parts" and in epic poetry often means "army". The name itself comes from a battle formation mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata, referring to four divisions of an army, viz. elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry.



Chaturanga was played on an 8×8 uncheckered board, called Ashtāpada.  The board had some special marks, the meaning of which is unknown today. These marks were not related to chaturanga, but were drawn on the board only by tradition. The great chess historian Murray has conjectured that the Ashtāpada was also used for some old race-type dice game, perhaps similar to Chowka bhara, in which these marks had meaning.


An early reference to an ancient Indian board game is sometimes attributed to Subandhu in his Vasavadatta (c. AD 450):


The time of the rains played its game with frogs for pieces (nayadyutair) yellow and green in color, as if mottled by lac, leapt up on the black field squares.


The colors are not those of the two camps, but mean that the frogs have a two-tone dress, yellow and green.


Banabhatta's Harsha Charitha (c. AD 625) contains the earliest reference to the name chaturanga:


Under this monarch, only the bees quarreled to collect the dew; the only feet cut off were those of measurements, and only from Ashtâpada one could learn how to draw up a chaturanga, there was no cutting-off of the four limbs of condemned criminals...


While there is little doubt that Ashtâpada is the game board of 8×8 squares, the double meaning of chaturanga, as the four folded army, may be controversial. There is a probability that the ancestor of chess was mentioned there.


The game was first introduced to the West in Thomas Hyde's De ludis orientalibus libri duo, published in 1694. Subsequently, translations of Sanskrit accounts of the game were published by Sir William Jones.


  • Raja (King) – Moves like the king in chess. Chaturanga starting position. The Ràjas do not face each other; the white Ràja starts on e1 and the black Ràja on d8.
  • Mantri (Minister); also known as Senapati (General) – Moves one square diagonally, like the Fers in shatranj.
  • Ratha (Chariot); also spelled Śakata – Moves like the rook in chess.
  • Gaja (Elephant) – Three different moves are described in ancient literature:


1.     Two squares in any diagonal direction, jumping over one square, as the Alfil in shatranj.


§         The same move is used for the Boat in a four-handed version of chaturangam, chaturaji.



§         The Elephant in xiangqi (Chinese chess) has the same move, but without jumping. (The name Elephant is used for a fairy chess piece with this move: a (2, 2) leaper, but one that cannot jump over an intervening piece.)



2.     One square forward or one square in any diagonal direction.


§         This is the same move as the silver general in shogi.

§         In makruk (Thai chess) and sittuyin (Burmese chess) the elephant moves in the same way.

§         This move was described c. 1030 by Biruni in his India book.


3.     Two squares in any orthogonal direction, jumping over one square. (In modern chess, the rook moves orthogonally.)


§         A piece with such a move is called a Dabbābah in some chess variants. This move was described by the Arabic chess master al-Adli c. 840 in his (partly lost) chess work. (The Arabic word dabbābah in former times meant a covered siege engine for attacking walled fortifications, and nowadays means "army tank".)


§         The German historian Johannes Kohtz (1843–1918) suggests, rather, that this was the earliest move of the Ratha.


  • Ashva (Horse); also spelled Ashwa, Asva – Moves like the knight in chess.
  • Padàti/Bhata (Foot-soldier); also spelled Pedati, Bhata; also known as Sainik (Warrior) – Moves like the pawn in chess.


Chess history is anything but written in stone. There are many stories and fables on where and how this game got started.


Most people can, however, agree that a variation of the game Chaturanga was the first known variation of chess. The ancient words for chess in both Arabic and Old Persian are Shatranj and Chatrang respectively — words derived from the Sanskrit word Chaturanga which, literally translated, means an army of four divisions.


A variation of chaturanga made its way to Europe through Persia, the Byzantine Empire and the expanding Arabian empire. Later chess appeared in the South of Europe during the end of the 1st millennium. The game remained largely unpopular among the North European citizens at the time. Northern European people couldn’t relate to abstract chess shapes and only became part of world chess history when the figurative pieces were introduced.


The knightly lifestyle of Europe was soon incorporated into the game in the form of chess pieces. The game also became a subject of art during this period. England’s Queen Margaret had red and green chess sets, which were made of jasper and crystal, and symbolized chess's position as part of royal art treasures. Chess pieces started to depict kings, queens, bishops, knights and men at arms during the mid 12th century. Ivory chess pieces began to appear in North-West Europe, and ornamental chess pieces depicting traditional knight warriors were used as part of the game as early as the mid 13th century. The initial nondescript pawn was now associated with a footman, which symbolized both loyal domestic service and infantry. Indeed, Kings Henry I and II as well as England’s Richard I were all chess patrons. Like them, Alfonso X of Spain and Ivan IV of Russia are examples of monarchs who really enjoyed and supported the history of chess.



During most of the world history of chess, a social value was attached to the game. One can easily see that the game was seen as a prestigious pastime that was associated with nobility and high culture. This fact is easy to spot when viewing pictures of the exquisitely made and extremely expensive chessboards of the medieval era. The popularity of chess among the Western courtly society reached its peak somewhere between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.






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